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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tisha Ba'Av Drasha


THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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Tisha Ba'Av Drasha


Rabboisai,

I would like to share with you some thoughts I developed on the topic of Tisha Ba’av.

Last year, as I sat on the floor in shul on Tisha Ba’av, inhaling the stench of the guy in front of me who took the whole no-bathing thing during the Nine Days a bit too literally, I began to contemplate the relevance of Tisha Ba’Av to our daily lives. Later in the week, I pondered a parallel question: what is the relevance of Shabbos Nachamu, especially for those of us who are not single and have no plans to go up to the Catskills to play sample-the-gefilte-fish with some desperately unmarried third grade social studies teacher from the Bais Yankif of Sheytel Park.

At face value, Tisha Ba’Av is a simple concept. Klal Yisroel marks a period of national mourning by engaging in outward rituals designed to prove to the Reboinoisheloilum how sad we are, while we meanwhile pass our many post shul hours surfing porn to distract us from the growls of our empty bellies.

Yes, these were our ancestors who suffered horrible consequences many centuries ago. And in the great Yiddeshe tradition of compounding suffering, we somewhat arbitrarily link the date with other national tragedies. The destruction of the first Bais HaMikdash, the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash, the Hadrianic Persecutions, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Stock Market Crash of 1929, etc. In other words, every bad thing that could possibly happen to the Jewish people.

But how can we feel personal linkages to the various national tragedies that happened long ago and did not impact us in our own lifetimes? And what EXACTLY are we supposed to feel? Empathy with our ancestors? Affinity with Jewish brethren and sistren? Or, as I sometimes feel, sheer panic and a sense that I ought to sign up with another religion as soon as possible, so long as I can avoid future persecution and have access to hot shiksas?

This question is at the center of a famous Machloikess Rishoinim between the RAMBAN and the RASHBA on the topic of Soitah. According to the RAMBAN, the Koihan administers the Mei Soitah to a married woman as potential punishment for her sleeping with other men in the past. But according to the RASHBA, the Kohain administers the Mei Soitah the woman as punishment for her not having slept with him.

As Jews, we are instructed to sanctify the Reboinoisheloilum through time: On Pesach, we re-enact the exodus from Mitzrayim be eating Matzoh until we are hospitalized for intestinal blockage. On Sukkois, we re-enact our sojourning in the desert by making last minute trips to Home Depot for electrical tape. And on Shavuois, we re-enact receiving the Toirah by doing shots with our friends and talking about who has the hottest wives in shul, while our own wives are home putting the children to sleep and probably stroking the schmaltz herring to help them fall asleep, if you know what I mean.

But what are the rational limits of our behavior as we relate to Jewish history? And where do we draw the line between symbolism and reality when we worship Hakadoshboruchhu through time?

It is told of Reb Akiva Eiger that he was very diligent about not using numbers to count people, lest it echo the Avoidah, the ritual Practice, of the Bais Hamikdash, and wrongfully re-enact the past. Every morning in the Great Synagogue of Posen, he would check to see if there was a minyan by counting heads, “Hoshiya, Ess, Amecha, U’Varech, Ess, Nachlasecha, Uraim, Ve’Nasaim, Ad, Oilum.” At a count of Oilum, signaling the number ten, he would begin to say Birchas Ha’Shachar, as well as start whipping the Baal Tefilla with his Tfillin.

But he would not stop there. One Shabbos morning before Kriyas HaToirah, a young boy came up to him and asked, “Rabbi, do you know what the Yankees did last night.”

Reb Akiva smiled reassuringly and replied, “Shimee, great news! The Yankees beat the Red Sox Uraim to Hoshiya. Jones had Ve’Nasaim strikeouts, and Jackson had Ess home runs.”

This practice was not a universally held position. Many of Chazal actually counted using numbers, holding that concern for replicating the historical Avoidah was not relevant in their day – that there were indeed limits to how the history of Klal Yisroel should impact religious practice in their own lives.

The Baal Shem Tov is recorded by numerous of his Chassidim as having counted using actual numbers. As he traveled from town to town, raising money for his new movement, he would often go the front of a shul and say aloud, “Which of you would like to buy a chelek of Oilum Habah for eighteen zloties?” He would then look out towards the Kehillah and start counting the raised hands. “I see one Yid, two Yidden, three, four… Wow! There are fifteen of you suckers… err… I mean tzaddikim out there.”

But this practice was not unique to the Chassidic movement. Reb Moishe himself writes in the Igrois Moishe how he once traveled to Florida with his talmidim for spring break, and after being appointed as a competition judge, used real numbers to keep score in a wet tzitzis contest.

More to the point, the Maharal MiPrague himself addresses these issues directly in his lesser known sefer, Be’er HaGalus. According to the Maharal, Klal Yisroel is distinct from the pagans in that Oivday Avoidah Zorah seek the favor of their deities through the celebration of the forces of nature, which are largely seen as behaving randomly and are fundamentally distant from the work of humanity. But Klal Yisroel worships the Aimishteh, who we view as fundamentally involved in our fate and the workings of our own reality. And since the Reboinoisheloilum acts through history, such as in Yetzias Mitzrayim 3,400 years ago, and through the notion of time, such as through the unique covenantal pillar of celebrating the Shabbos Koidesh, the seventh day, so we must in turn use practices in time, such as practicing commemorative holidays fixed upon the calendar, to worship Hakkadoshboruchhu.

However, the Maharal goes on to discuss the limits of this principle. Writes the Maharal, “When I was a young bocherul in the Yeshiva, I prayed to the Aimishteh for two things: One, that I would learn Kol HaToirah Kooloh. And Two, that I would win the Prague Pick-Finnif Lottery so I could buy myself a new shtender. I studied day and night, night and day, and mastered the Toirah by the age of nine. I also davened three times a day. And I very strictly kept the Shabbos Koidesh. Plus I never tried to look up my next door neighbor Shayndel’s dress. But did I ever win the lottery? No! Which taught me one thing: No matter what we do, even when we worship the Reboinoisheloilum through time, He has His own master plan. And if our world does not align with His plan, we may as well start praying to Yushka or Buddha or to a giant head of lettuce, because Hakadoshboruchhu is certainly not going to help.”

Continues the Maharal, “So, conversely, if you are trying to worship the Aimishteh, and the form of worship does not make sense – say, by fasting three days and three nights after a bad dream, or not showering for a week before Tisha Ba’Av, you should probably stop. The Reboinoisheloilum created the world to be peopled by human beings and not angels, and also endowed them with common sense. So if you do something silly, like wear a $400 hat over a $3,000 shaytel, or get filters built into your water system, or only eat uncut fruit that has a Hashgacha, the only thing you have accomplished is convince Hakadoshboruchhu that you are indeed an idiot.”

So when it comes to Tisha Ba’Av, we must have appreciation for our history because marking time is inherent to our faith. Fast a little bit. Be a bit somber. Think about the suffering of our ancestors. Get under the bed and hide, so the Goyim cannot find you and persecute you. Try not to knead the flanken for one day, if you know what I mean. It won’t kill you.

But at the same time, we needn’t instill upon ourselves an intolerable level of suffering. Our ancestors did not seek their own torment – we should therefore limit our own. In fact, given the choice, I can assure you that our ancestors would have much preferred to skip the suffering commemorated by Tisha Ba’Av altogether, and go straight for the cute, zaftig, single third grade teacher at the singles weekend on Shabbos Nachamu.

Have an easy fast, you minuval

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Parshas Matois


THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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Parshas Matois

In this week's Parsha, Matois, Klal Yisroel strives to emulate the benevolent, merciful, forgiving nature of the Reboinoisheloilum by slaughtering all the nations of Midian.

Like last week, we are faced with a question regarding Klal Yisroel's relationship with Midian: How is it that the nation of Yisro, the man who helped develop Am Yisroel's legal system, so soon became a mortal enemy to be pillaged and plundered, killed to the last man, with all its wealth taken away? According to the Mei Menuchois, the Toirah here is coming to teach an important lesson to lawyers: they are to pledge allegiance to the legal system, but are then encouraged to exploit it, abuse it and devour it like locusts, so long as they are not disbarred.

However, the Sifsey Chachomim focuses on an even more fundamental question on the Parsha: Why, after Klal Yisroel killed all the adult males of Midian, did Moishe Rabbeinu insist that they kill all the adult females as well?

According to the Baal Haturim, Moishe's motivation was that he was a mysogonist. Indeed, a Gemarra in Nedarim attributes to Moishe the Halacha that women can never enter the inner areas of the Bais Hamikdash, not because they were banned from bringing sacrifices, but because of the strict MEN ONLY rules in the Temple's health club.

But the RAN disagrees, referring in his commentary to the Baal Haturim as "Shvantz for Brains." The RAN holds that Moishe Rabbeinu actually loved women, perhaps a little too much. He cites a medrish that says that the reason it took Moishe so long to return to Klal Yisroel from Sinai was that he went three blocks out of his way, where no one he knew would see him, to buy "marital aids." Indeed, the RAN holds that Moishe had the adult women of Midian killed because they "lacked passion", and he didn't dare risk making the Israelite wives any more frigid than they already were, chass v'sholom.

But according to the MAHARAL, Moishe ordered the killing of the Midianite women for as grand a reason as to help Klal Yisroel finally reach the Promised Land.

Klal Yisroel was originally supposed to enter Eretz Yisroel in a matter of weeks after receiving the Toirah on Sinai. However, every time the Jews had a spare moment to make some progress toward reaching The Land, their wives always came up with new chores for them to do. "Moishe, fold the laundry, the Aimishteh can wait." "Aron, go next door to borrow the lawn mower. I don't care if we are moving our tent tomorrow. TODAY the place looks a mess." "Kulayv, watch the children for the next three hours while I get my nails done." "Yehoishua, you can't meet Moisheh to discuss conquest strategy this afternoon; we have a guy coming in to give us an estimate on redoing the kitchen."

Since Moishe didn't want the males of Am Yisroel to become any more whipped than they already were, he had all the Midianite women put to death.

I am reminded of a famous story told of the ARI ZAHL. He was once addressing his students in Tzfas, expounding on new, insightful interpretations of the Zohar, and using his deep understanding of the interrelationships of ten Sefirot to bring about the coming of the Moshiach and end Israel's state of exile.

Suddenly, the back door of the Bais Medrish opened, and his eight year old son Pesachya stuck his head in. "Tahti, come home quickly, Mommy needs you right away!" Fearing some horrible disaster, the ARI ended his treatise mid-sentence and ran home. His wife anxiously greeted him at the door. "I need you to do car pool. Shayndl next door is sick, and I have an appointment with the Shaytelmacher." The ARI held his temper and faithfully picked up his daughter Fruma from day camp.

That night the Reboinoisheloilum came to him in a dream. "ARI, you were about to crack the code and bring about Israel's redemption. Why did you choose your wife over the Moshiach?"

"Aimishteh," the ARI answered, "if the Moshiach doesn't come now, he'll come soon. Maybe in ten years, maybe in one hundred, maybe in one thousand. And then we will sit at Your throne and joyfully worship You. But if I piss off my wife, she'll make me miserable for all eternity." The Aimishteh praised the ARI's wisdom and rewarded him by bringing a plague that ended the ARI's life.

In our day we too are confronted by a similar choice: Lifelong dedication to the Reboinoisheloilum, or splitting loyalty between Him and a wife. Many spiritual groups have different approaches to managing this challenge. The Moslems marry many women in order to counter the aggregation of power by a single wife. The Episcopalians and the Reform allow their wives to become clergy and manage the family's relationship with the Aimishteh, thereby freeing up time for the husbands to play golf. And the Catholics don't marry, but take matters into their own hands, or into the hands of their alter boys, if you know what I mean.

But a true Ben Torah accepts his fate, secure in the fact that while his wife wastes her time on such insignificant tasks as supporting the family, paying the rent, filling out school registration forms, planning carpool, packing school lunches, cooking, cleaning, and worrying about birth control, he is off doing the Aimishteh's work by learning in Kolel and contemplating his reward in the World to Come.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, you Minuval

Thursday, July 12, 2012

On the Twilight Years


THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/Rabbi_Pinky

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Rabboisai,

I had the occasion last Moitzee Shabbos Koidesh to meet several of my Talmidim at a Melaveh Malka. Besides the Freilichen singing and dancing, we had delightful yellowtail and spicy tuna, although the squid was a little stringy. (I know you are wondering how the Yeshivah could serve squid at a Melaveh Malka. According to the RAMAH one may eat squid and octopus even though they do not have fins and scales, since they neither have shells nor dwell on the ocean floor. However, they must be prepared in a separate pot and eaten with a separate fork. According to the Mogayn Avraham there is even a special Brachah for squid and octopus: “Al Achilas Scungeel”.)

In any case, I was shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, to learn that these Talmidim read my Drashas every week but have not purchased my Seforim. A Shandah!

Minuvals: Do you think that I am writing Divrei Toirah and selling Sforim for my own good? The proceeds of my Sforim, in addition to paying off my bookie, are used to support my Talmidim in Yeshivah, provide a small stipend to the Buchrim in Koilel, subsidize the restoration of Kever Amalek in Eretz Kena’an, and purchase packages of EZ Wider, 1.5 inches, double gummed, at the local Sforim store, located right above The Jewish Press and across from the beef jerky.

Finally, I would like to remind all of my Talmidim that my Drashas are LeChatchila not meant to be read on an iPhone or other 4 inch screen, or even on a PC or an iPad. MY DRASHAS ARE MEANT TO BE PRINTED OUT AND READ IN SHUL, so that you can look smart sitting two seats away from that Schmuck who kills one tree a week printing out Drashas from Aish HaToirah, Toirah.Org, the Young Israel, and Vatican.Com on such critical Inyunim as why Moishe Rabbeinu never used dental floss on Shabbos and why Aroin HaCoihain always wore striped boxer shorts while performing the Avoidah in the Mishkan.

Shoyn.
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On the Twilight Years

“Al Tashlichainu Le’ais Ziknah, Kichlois Koichainu, Al Ta’Azveinu.” “Do not discard us in our old age; as our strength wanes, do not abandon us.” This phrase, familiar to us from Shma Koilaynu, is rooted in the words of Tehillim, Psalms, written by Dovid Hamelech after his son Shloimoi came by to visit and stole money to support his crack habit. This phrase was later inserted into the Tefillois of Slichois. Of course, in its inclusion into the Shma Koilaynu, the Passuk was transformed from the singular form to the plural.

There is a famous three way Machloikess between the MAHARAL MiPRAGUE, the Toisfois Yuntif, and the Tzemach Dovid about the proper Kavvanah, the proper intent, that one is meant to have when reciting this Passuk.

According to the MAHARAL, when reciting these words, we are supposed to be thinking about our individual selves, despite the transition of the paraphrase into plural form. This is because we are all aging as individuals, and will age in the future, and are pleading to the Reboinoisheloilum for divine assistance. Many men will lose their hair. Many women will have their Tzitzach sag so low to the ground they are in danger of stomping on their nipples every time they take a step. Many men will have erectile dysfunction so frequently that they will have the Bracha of Zoikaif Kefufim tattooed on their arms. Many women, after having a minimum of twelve children, will have their Ervas become so loose that they will be able to carry around their keys, their cellphones, a bagel, and a book to read on Shabbos Koidesh without being Chayuv for the Dioraisah of carrying in Reshus HaRabim, Chass V’Sholom.

The Toisfois Yuntif, however, holds that as we say this Passuk, we are supposed to be concentrating on pleading to Hakadoshboruchhu on behalf of all of Klal Yisroel. Here we are, a proud People, beaten down by all of the other nations, Yemach Shmum, as we pass through the millennia, ravaged by history. We were at eternity’s doorstop, says the Toisfois Yuntif, as our Moshiach arrived to bring about the end of time and initiate an eternity of Divine grace, Toirah, and free parking. However, our Moshiach was rejected by a rebellious clique, and now we await His second coming, as we celebrate Him by making Kiddush on red wine and taking the Eucharist every Sunday morning. Of course, the Toisfois Yuntif was a practicing Roman Catholic, so his Sheetah is not relevant to us, with the possible exception of the utopian vision of adequate street level parking in Oilum Habbah.

Finally, the Tzemach Dovid holds like the Toisfois Yuntif, that as we recite this Passuk we need to have in mind the well being of Am Yisroel. We are suffering the indignities of our collective longevity and feel forgotten after two thousand years of exile. Sure, we control world banking, the global media, and the diamond industry, and have absolutely cornered the market on Kemach Yoshon. And of course we have our own country after two thousand years. But it is filled with corruption and immorality, and is certainly not the redemption that we prayed for, what, with its young girls scantily clad in their long sleeve shirts and long skirts, invading the holy space of the true Shoimrey Emunah, tempting them with their coquettish ways. So we must throw stones and attack this evil amongst us in order to expunge it from our midst, or at the very least get it off of our side of the street, while continuing to pray on behalf of Klal Yisroel that the Aimishteh does not abandon us in our communal old age.

This Halachic debate is actually rooted in a historical question on the proper understanding of the strange story of Avishag HaShunamis. We are told at the beginning of Sefer Melachim Aleph about how Dovid HaMelech, in his deteriorated, elderly state, is given a young woman, Avishag HaShunamis, to keep him warm in his bed. However, we are told, “VeHana’arah Yuffuh Ad Meoid, VaTehee LaMelech Soicheness VaTeshursayhu, VeHamelech Loi Yudu’uh”, “And the young woman was very beautiful, and she became a companion to the king and ministered to him, and (but) the king did not know her.” (Melachim Aleph, Perek Aleph, Passuk Daled.)

There is a famous Machloikess in a Gemarrah in Makkois about what actually happened between Dovid HaMelech and Avishag. According to Rava, Dovid was disinclined to engaged in Znuss with his unmarried concubine because he was too busy studying Toirah. Rava cites a Braisah quoting Rabban Gamliel who insisted that his ancient ancestor Dovid HaMelech was absolutely obsessed with Daf Yoimi and studying Sefer Shemiras HaLashoin, and would ignore everything else: Young maidens in his bed, the occasional son trying to usurp his throne, the many rivalries between his multiple wives, and the all-you-can-eat buffet at the local Red Lobster.

Abaya, on the other hand, believes that Dovid had lost all interest in the Meidelach, but instead loved to spend time with his arms bearer, Horace, with whom he wrestled day and night, if you know what I mean, while poor Avishag had to retreat to bed alone every night with one of David Hamelech’s battery powered spear polishers. According to the RADAK, Klal Yisroel could hear Avishag’s solitary passionate outbursts all the way in Bais Lechem, Rachmanah Letzlan.

However, Rav Chisda holds Farkert. According to Rav Chisda, the term in the Passuk stating that Dovid Hamelech did not “know” Avishag is not to be understood in the traditional Biblical/ Rabbinic sense of not having intimate relations. Adderabbah! Rav Chisda cites a Medrish that suggests that Dovid HaMelech always had Tashmish HaMitah with Avishag immediately after reciting Shmoineh Esrei – that is three times a day during the week, four times a day on Shabbos un Yuntif, and five times a day (!) on Yoim Kippur. And the reason the Passuk says that Dovid did not know her is that he never, once, had an actual conversation with her, since, due to his age, he could only complete the Makka V’Patish when Avishag performed Metzitzah Bipeh on him. So whenever Dovid Hamelech asked Avishag a question about her family or the weather or her philosophical position on euthanasia or her perspectives on supply side economics, she could not respond because she always had a little something stuck in her throat.

Shoyn.

It is without a doubt that Tehillim and the Toirah in general note the impact and ravages of time as part of the collective human experience. Klal Yisroel is portrayed as a nation passing through history, with heroes, leaders and other figures who are not deities or demi-gods, but who are frail, fragile human beings who are born, struggle throughout life, and then, if they do not die young through war or disease, reach the Oilum HaEmess after 120 years. This is part of the inescapable reality that is the human condition. The Zoihar ponders this idea, speculating on the basic nature of humanity. Why, asks the Zoihar, were humans and other living things made mortal, while rocks and other inanimate objects are designed to exist forever?

The Zoihar suggests that humanity’s basic nature is derived from the Sefirah of Yesoid, one of the ten Sefirois, elements of the Godhead, as described in Kabbalah, classical Jewish Mysticism. The Sefirah of Yesoid is responsible for channeling energy into the human world from the other Sefirois of Hoid, Netzach, and Tiferess. In the anthropomorphic understanding of the Divine Sefirois, Yesoid is also viewed as the equivalent of the Shvantsyl, the male Tashmish organ. (Note: This is absolutely true, but the way. Look it up, if you dare…) As such, Yesoid is associated with the organ that participates in a physical act that has an often challenging beginning, a typically pleasurable middle part, and a disruptive culmination, and is frequently followed by a quick cigarette and turning over and going to sleep. In other words, human existence is a reflection of the Divine, which has its own cadence of bio-cycles. While the Reboinoisheloilum is eternal, He embodies processes that involve a beginning, middle, and end, followed by a nap, and then, eventually, renewal.

The ARIZAL, however, takes this thinking one step further. The ARIZAL agrees with the Zoharic conception of humanity being a reflection of the Divine. However, he sees the human condition as in fact directly mirroring Hakadoshboruchhu. Let’s face it: Whether you are a Biblical literalist and believe that the world is 6000 years old, or someone with half a brain who understands that the universe is billions of years old, the Aimishteh is one old Dude. He probably has some grey hair at this point, or no hair at all. Maybe the Yesoid isn’t working quite the way it once did, and maybe at this point the Melech Malchei HaMelachim needs an afternoon nap. Maybe the reason that the Reboinoisheloilum seems to have forgotten the Jews from time to time is not because He is punishing us or trying to teach us a lesson, but because He is actually absent minded, and genuinely forgot about us (Hakadoshboruchhu knows, He has a lot of things to keep track of). Maybe pogroms happened for hundreds of years as He was taking naps, the Spanish Inquisition happened because He was having a pacemaker put in, and the Shoah happened because He was out for a few days (in Aimishteh time) to have His gall bladder removed. And the State of Israel was established after He took a sizable dose of Viagra.

Regardless, “Al Tashlichainu Le’ais Ziknah, Kichlois Koichainu, Al Ta’Azveinu,” just as we do not want to be abandoned in our old age, we should not abandon the Reboinoisheloilum in His twilight years. After all, He is the only Hakadoshboruchhu we’ve got. So we have to nurture the relationship and care for Him, visit Him a bit more often and remind Him to put on His pants. We should not expect Him to be the Aimishteh He once was, at least in our eyes, but have reasonable and realistic expectations about His capabilities and limitations. And most important, we should make sure that He does not sign over all His assets to our goddamned brother, since we need those funds to pay off our bookie and buy some more EZ Wider for rolling our Bsomim, so we can get nice and Freilichin at a future Maleveh Malka.

Ah Freilichin Shabbos, You Minuval.



Thursday, July 05, 2012

Parshas Balak


THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/Rabbi_Pinky

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Parshas Balak

In this week's Parsha, Parshas Balak, we are provided a welcome respite from the usual rigmarole of the Toirah -- no Moishe Rabbeinu, no Aharoin the minuval, no vilda chaya Klal Yisroel -- until the very end of the Parsha. No regulations regarding sacrifices or other Priestly responsibilities. No critical laws that continue to enrich our lives until today, such as the prohibition against eating creeping insects while having relations with your father's wife on Yoim Kippur.

The RAMBAN asks the obvious question: why does the Toirah veer away from focusing on Klal Yisroel, the Chosen People, the Goy Kadoish, and focuses instead on Bilaam, Balak, and a talking she-ass? What’s Pshat?

The Tzitz Eliezer suggests that the Rebboinoisheloilum was suffering from writer's block, and was forced to plagiarize a script he found on the Internet in order to meet His tight deadline.

But the Schvantz Mordechai vehemently disagrees, saying that the Aimishteh was renowned for delivering his scripts on time, but that union issues with the Screen Actors Guild resulted in a walk out by Moishe and the rest of Klal Yisroel, requiring some quick rewrites and recasting with low cost fill ins ("scabs" in Yiddish). By Parsha's end, of course, the strike was settled, just in time to enjoy the usual hijinks of Klal Yisroel being smitten by a plague that killed twenty-four thousand. He cites as proof a medrish in Yechezkel Rabbah suggesting that the reason Moishe wasn't allowed into Eretz Yisroel was because his affinity for labor was expected to make Yehoshua's right-wing coalition unstable.

So what of Bilaam and Balak? The Gemarrah, in discussing this Parsha, notes how strange it is that Bilaam is portrayed by the Toirah as having a personal relationship with Hakkadoshboruchhu, referring to him by name, and mentioning several times that Bilaam had His personal cell phone number.

Says the Gemmarah, according to a Bas Kol (a voice emanating from heaven), Bilaam was in fact not associated with the Rebboinoisheloilum at all. Says the Bas Kol, "The Aimishteh denies that any alleged contacts with Mr. Bilaam took place at any time, and expresses that any alleged leaks were certainly unintentional and not a violation of Federal law. As well, Hakkadoshboruchhu has engaged a private counsel, and will have nothing else to say on this matter at this time."

Rav Huna rejects the Bas Kol, citing credibility issues arising from previous high level leaks that took place following the "Golden Calf" affair. Instead, he suggests that the Bilaam story is actually a legend created by the author of the E text in order to support Israelite claims of manifest destiny over Moabite territories by referring to Bilaam, a historical Near Eastern shaman. Unfortunately, Rav Huna disappeared without a trace before he could prove his theory.

Rav Ashi suggests, however, that Bilaam did indeed have a relationship with the Rebboinoisheloilum, but tried to exploit that relationship in order to develop his own following and offer an alternative religion, a substitute to Toiras Moishe. He points to a medrish that says that Bilaam was supported by a band of nerdy looking teenagers who were always doggedly handing out deceptive looking fliers in the subway during rush hour advocating membership in “Bedouins for Bilaam.”

Indeed, this interpretation points to a paradox at the heart of Yiddishkeit. Judaism itself is an alternative, a substitute for the pagan beliefs and rituals pervasive in society until the time of Avraham Avinu. As such, we have from time immemorial lived side-by-side with others, yet remained committed to alternative philosophies and approaches based upon our conception of monotheism and the practices inspired by our core belief set.

Yes, Judaism is dedicated to the concept of being unique, both in our faith and in our material existence. Take food, for example. We separate ourselves from the animals and the anti-Semite nations of the world by our dietary practices. Others eat pig; we do not. Other mix milk and meat; we consecrate our lives by putting non-dairy creamer in our coffee.

Take aesthetic habits. The women of other nations expose their hair as they prostitute themselves; we, on the other hand, assert our holiness and superiority by wearing $3000 dollar wigs.

A maaseh shehoyo: The Pri Megadin was once at a bachelor party for his brother in law, the Eliyahu Rabbah. After going out for steaks, they eventually ended up at the best strip club in all of Lithuania. One of the exotic dancers, Ruchel, came over to the Pri Megadin and whispered in his ear, "Rebbe, I have always been inspired by your commentaries. Would you like a lap dance?" The Pri Megadin looked at her closely, leaned forward, and replied to her, "Meideleh, I don't fraternize with shiksas."

"But Rebbe," she said, "I am as Jewish as your wife!"

"You don't show it. My aishess chayil projects her Jewishness with her elaborate hair covering, separates herself through her elegant-though-modest mode of dress, builds upon the Devine's creation with her delicate rhinoplasty, and truly distinguishes herself with her double-D implants."

The Pri Megadin then puked and passed out at the bar, and spent the night sleeping on the floor until it was time for Shacharis.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval